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Levy would mean more for South Charleston, Nitro libraries

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If Kanawha County voters pass an additional school excess levy in November, South Charleston and Nitro libraries -- which have long been independent from the Kanawha County Public Library system -- will see a significant increase in funding.

The potential influx of income for the two self-sustaining branches, which are supported by their cities and have had no funding relationship with the county system, is a very different story than the one most of Kanawha County's libraries will face if the levy does not pass.

The Kanawha County Board of Education officially voted last week to run an excess levy Nov. 9, with about $3 million going toward the county's libraries each year if passed.

That figure -- which makes up about 40 percent of the libraries' total operating budget -- is on par with what the school board was required by law to designate for library services in the past. That was until the Supreme Court struck down that law in February, breaking the school system's funding ties to the library, and leaving it in dire financial conditions.

While the county school board agreed to host a levy on the library's behalf to help its financial situation, the money going toward the library is a small portion of the proposed excess levy, which will generate $24 million from taxpayers for school services in its first year.

The new five-year levy is in addition to the capped levy passed last year. If approved, it would be the first time since the early nineties that Kanawha County Schools has taken full advantage of the legal limit it can tax residents.

The current school excess levy, which is capped at $44 million and goes into effect next July, is only 65 percent of what the county is allowed to charge taxpayers under state code.

If passed, taxpayers can expect to pay at least 50 percent more in school excess levy taxes than they do now.

For example, a person with a $100,000 home and $15,000 in vehicles would pay about $125 more than they were expected to under the current capped levy.

The regular school levy rate will not change, and is controlled by the Legislature.

"This is an opportunity for the board and the library to cooperate to produce something that's very important, and that's better informed citizenry and educated students who are able to function in today's competitive society," said Kanawha County Public Library Director Alan Engelbert. "The excess levy, as proposed, will allow our library to maintain all of its facilities and services, and most likely to reinstate Sunday hours and continue to grow and enhance our services."

In addition, the levy would bring in about $227,000 for the South Charleston Public Library, which operates on a budget of about $580,000, and will give the Nitro Public Library about $50,000, which totals to about a third of its operating budget.

Both libraries operate as independent agencies, though Nitro Public Library receives some services from the county system.

"For the first time, we would be partially supporting those libraries, recognizing that the people who live in those cities clearly are affected by this levy and need to be permitted to benefit from it as well," Engelbert said.

Karen Boggess, manager for the Nitro Public Library, has worked there for more than 20 years. She called the levy's potential "a very exciting opportunity."

"We could use that money anywhere -- we're a very small library, and we've seen hard times," she said. "It would be tremendous for us."

The new levy would also kick in 2014, and would give Kanawha County Public Libraries more than $2.9 million to distribute amongst its 10 branches. By 2019, when the levy ends, Kanawha County libraries will be receiving more than $3.4 million.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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